The world has changed. Now, when someone is murdered, they almost always come back to life—and there are professionals, called “dispatchers”, who kill in order to save lives, to give those near the end a second chance. Tony Valdez is a dispatcher, and he has never been busier.
But for as much as the world has changed, some things have stayed the same. Greed, corruption, and avarice are still in full swing. When Tony is called to a Chicago emergency room by an old friend and fellow dispatcher, he is suddenly and unwillingly thrown into a whirlpool of schemes and plots involving billions of dollars, with vast caches of wealth ranging from real estate to cryptocurrency up for grabs.
All Tony wants to do is keep his friend safe. But it’s hard to do when friends keep secrets, enemies offer seductive deals, and nothing is ever what it seems. The world has changed…but the stakes are still life and death.
I’m impressed by how far John Scalzi has been able to develop his ‘Dispatcher’ idea. With each novella ‘The Dispatcher‘, ‘Murder By Other Means’ and ‘Travel By Bullet‘ he has made the problem space generated by the idea more complex and the mysteries that his Dispatcher, Tony Valdez, has to solve, more and more interesting.
What makes ‘Travel By Bullet’ more than just another shake of the puzzle box is that as well as the plot of each book squeezing more juice from the Dispatcher lemon, it develops the character of Tony Valdez and deepens his relationships with the ensemble cast around him. In the first book, Tony was almost an anti-hero, uncomfortable with what he was doing and maintaining a self-protective emotional distance between himself and the people around him. By the end of the second book, Tony has gained some self-respect and some moral certainty and is moving towards working in law enforcement. In ‘Travel By Bullet’, Tony is caught up in conflicting loyalties and has to work hard to get people to trust him. By the end of it, he’s a more interesting person.
Despite the character development, ‘Travel By Bullet‘ is still essentially a puzzle book, with the same sort of structure that Asimov’s ‘Robot’ books have: create a new set of rules, generate a new set of crimes that become possible because of the new set of rules, and figure out who the bad guys are and how to stop them.
This time, John Scalzi throws in a competition between ruthless, violent people to find a McGuffin (Valdez even calls it that), in the form of a crypto-box with something valuable on it.
For me, the book was enlivened by the way John Scalzi; took swipes at the compulsive, insatiable greed of billionaires; rolled in the impact of the pandemic on the Dispatcher business and put the risks of. cryptocurrency through its paces. It also helped that he wrapped the whole thing in sarcastic humour and kept the pace of the plot brisk.
I liked that the shape of the puzzle kept shifting in satisfying ways. The two billionaires were both grotesques but with different kinks. Bizarrely, it was the man who is trying to transition the organised crime syndicate that inherited into a legitimate operation with lower risks and higher returns, who came off as having the strongest ethics among these too-rich-to-be-able-to-spend-it-all people,
I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Zachary Quinto who does a great job of giving distinctive and appropriate voices to the main characters in the book.